My desire to leave always comes from a suggestion that suddenly strikes me while I listen to a song, watch a movie, read a book. From time to time, it is the news of an exhibition, a theatre show, the opening of a new museum, a literary festival. And this time, too, it was like that. Needless to say, the creator of my latest fascination is the undisputed genius of Fred Vargas, queen of the noir of the other side of the Alps, who with his latest detective story “The bite of the recluse“, left me no escape. I was forced to organise myself: I moved work commitments, making up crazy excuses, and fixed a flight: Pisa – Paris Beauvais, round trip
The (real) Paris of the 13th arrondissement.
I have three days of chatting, cuddling and excellent Bordeaux, in pure girly night style. There is definitely worse, better is unlikely.
I don’t even count the trips I have made to the French capital, at least three a year. This city has the ability to present itself differently every time I visit and give me new ideas, unexpected perspectives, stories that I have not yet listened to.
I am lucky that two of my best friends live in Château de Vincennes. A couple of phone calls and the accommodation is no longer a concern, but it couldn’t be otherwise. I have three days of chatting, cuddling and excellent Bordeaux, in pure girly night style. There’s definitely worse, better is unlikely.
This time, I leave to discover the Paris of Vargas and the commissioner Jean Baptiste Adamsberg, the most famous character in his novels. I already know that I will come across streets and squares far from the sparkling notes of the Ville Lumière. A little metropolitan city awaits me, made of fog and indolence, just as foggy and indolent is the character of Adamsberg, head of the Brigade Criminelle, the murder squad of the 13th arrondissement.
Porte d’Italie, la Gare d’Austerlitz, la Bibliothèque nationale de France: it is from this quarter of the Rive Gauche, so little touristy and so popular, also known as Parisian Chinatown, that my exploration begins.
As I head towards the National Library, I cannot help but think how little I know of this commissioner who reminds me so much of his most famous predecessor, that Jules Maigret of Simenonian memory. Of him I know that he prefers to reflect while walking rather than re-examine the evidence of the cases; I know that he is a cloud shoveler, as Vargas calls him, an unconventional and contemplative policier who loves to live at a slow pace. I know that his mind is made up of angular thoughts, similar to the scribbles that he traces incessantly.
I know he is a man who keeps his secrets to himself and who prefers to zigzag through situations waiting for a solution rather than going crazy to find it.
With these reflections in mind, I walk through the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir and reach the majestic complex named after François Mitterrand. Four grandiose buildings that, if you look at them from afar, look like huge open books: they contain over 15 million volumes and an immense heritage of “manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps and plans, scores, coins, medals, audio documents, videos, multimedia supports, scenes, costumes” as you can read on the site. I am fascinated by the flowerbeds in the garden of the BnF, a place rigorous in the form and organisation of the spaces.
The Paris (invented) by Fred Vargas
After a short break café (dutiful, given the beautiful sunshine but the low temperatures) I resume following Jean Baptiste on his solitary walks along the Seine, in the direction of the Île Saint-Louis. As I walk, it seems to me that time slows down as the city reveals itself to me and reveals itself to me on the other side of the river, suspended between reality and fiction. Yes, because the atmospheres and environments told by Vargas are a mix of real places and invented places.
I couldn’t find Adamsberg wandering in front of the 36 quai des Orfevres, the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire, but I enjoyed an incredible view of the Île de la Cité da Pont Neuf, the famous bridge “des amants” made famous by Leos Carax’s film.
I could not walk around rue Chasle, where the three Evangelists (Marc, Lucien and Matthias) live together with the old Vandoosler in a large, dilapidated four-storey house better known as the “hovel”, because the street does not exist. Nor did I find the Brasserie des Philosopes, where Adamsberg, Adrien Danglard (his right-hand man), Violette Retancourt, Helene Froissy and the other members of the team meet to discuss the cases; or Le Viking in the 14th arrondissement, not far from the Montparnasse Cemetery.
So, in the end, to discover Fred Vargas’ “real” Paris, I did as his commissioner does: I stopped to look at the clouds.
There, in the small Place Delambre, on the corner with the rue Quinet, there was no smoky bar, but if you pay attention, I’m sure I heard the echo of the thundering voice of the Breton auctioneer Joss announcing public and private messages.
These places exist only in the pages of Participate quickly and don’t come back, Under the winds of Neptune, In the eternal forests, The Ride of the Dead, The Glacial Times.
So, in the end, to discover Fred Vargas’ “real” Paris, I did as his commissioner does: I stopped to look at the clouds. I walked without a precise destination, following only my intuition and my feelings. But above all, I let myself be carried away by the evocative atmospheres in his novels.